Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Mariner Books: The Blue Hour by Paula Hawkins

From My Shelf

Growing a Feast: Kurt Timmermeister

In his first book, Growing a Farmer, Kurt Timmermeister gave us his story of a city-raised restaurateur who grew unsatisfied with his cafe's stacks of Cyrovac-packaged chicken breasts, and decided he needed to be closer to real food and to the land. He bought a few blackberry-covered acres littered with rusting cars, with dilapidated greenhouses, on Vashon Island, a 15-minute ferry ride from Seattle.

He cleared the property while living in the chicken coop. Eventually, he sold off his cafes to focus on living off his new land. Through trial and error, Kurt learned to harvest honey from bees, raise chickens, grow vegetables and manage a raw dairy farm. In the beginning, Kurtwood Farms was supported by weekly farm-raised-only dinners in the Cookhouse. His new book, Growing a Feast, is the story of the last Cookhouse dinner. It's not about who hogged a conversation, flirted or drank too much, but a chronicle of how the meal enjoyed by 22 people that night got to the table. The journey begins two years earlier, with the birth of Alice, the Jersey cow whose milk provides the butter and cheese. Then to the planting of a neighbor's prized "extra meaty" tomato seeds, mushrooms foraged in a nearby forest, currants plucked and pickled and quince paste gelled. He collects eggs from his chickens to make the pasta. Finally, there is the unforgettable slaughtering of a steer on a cool September morning.

photo: Claire Barboza

I was lucky to enjoy one of these meals years ago, and I think of it still today: a butter--almost orange in color--the first bite so exceptional, it wrecked me for any other butters. We hear the phrase "farm to table" often, but to understand what this truly means, read Growing a Feast. Then go find Dinah's Cheese, now the farm's breadwinner: a Camembert available on the West Coast and even in New York City, and taste for yourself why "farm to table" is incomparable. --Jenn Risko, publisher, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Chang-Rae Lee: Where You Are

photo: Annika Lee

Chang-Rae Lee was born in 1965 and left South Korea with his family when he was three years old. His novels Native Speaker (1995), A Gesture Life (1999), Aloft (2004), The Surrendered (2010) and the new On Such a Full Sea (see our review below) poignantly depict various facets of guilt and betrayal in the context of cultural identity, social changes and migration. Lee is a recipient of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, the Dayton Peace Prize and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He teaches writing at Princeton University.

On Such a Full Sea comes from Brutus's speech in Julius Caesar, about riding on fortune's high tides and seizing new opportunities. But betrayal lurks within this carpe diem notion. Fan, our heroine, faces many betrayals in her search for love and fulfillment. Is betrayal necessary for progress?

I see betrayal in the novel as a means of renewal. In her journey Fan meets all sorts of people, and from widely disparate circumstances and outlooks, all of whom appear to have some veiled design for her, and indeed it feels as if she's in constant or at least serial peril. From a narrative point of view, this is naturally appealing. We have to wonder whether Fan will escape or survive, and if she doesn't "change" as a character in some typical manner, her persistence in the face of all that danger steels her rather than wears her down, each episode she endures endowing her with more knowledge and confidence and perhaps even a measure of faith. I suppose that is "progress," in action and being.

"Fan" might refer to the culture of fan calligraphy in ancient China, how stories and poems are etched on court fans. Or the name can mean "rice" or "kindness." How did you decide on the name Fan and which definition, if any, comes closest to your intended meaning?

To be honest I didn't think about such meanings, simply liking the simplicity and delicacy of "Fan." But thinking about it now, "rice" aligns with who she is quite well. I like the idea of Fan being like "rice"--something that is elemental, basic yet all-important, and possessing a modest but gleaming purity, too. And people clearly seem to need her, to nourish a hunger they haven't quite figured out.

Fan utters the mysterious phrase, "Where you are" shortly before departing B-Mor. Does knowing "where you are" work as deliverance?

I will admit that the moment I wrote it for Fan I felt both certain as to what she meant as well as slightly puzzled. I'm not trying to be coy here. Sometimes you can write something and like it without fully understanding it. So perhaps it's best to leave what she says unexplained by yours truly. But I will say that a great part of what I found curious about the phrase is that it isn't a complete phrase. It's a fragment, meant to be added to, and I think the key is thinking about what's to be added, and by whom, and for what reasons or needs, depending on what's at the core of a being.

You mentioned that B-Mor is based on present-day Baltimore and Shenzhen, China. You often pass Baltimore during your train commute between New York and Washington, D.C., but had to travel to Shenzhen to see this industrial city first-hand. Why did you go so far?

I've always found that the most valuable insights come not just from what you can process intellectually from pictures and video and articles and books, but from what you can physically and even emotionally absorb. This can come only by placing yourself in situ, right in the heart of the places you're writing about, so you can see the living color, smell the particular tinge of the air, and watch the faces and gestures of the people, because it's never simply a matter of their words. I toured a factory outside of Shenzhen, and although I couldn't use much of the specific details of the facility I saw, I got a deep impression of the sensibility of the workers, the unvoiced tenor of their lives at the production benches and in their cramped dorm rooms. And it was this sensibility that I brought, in slightly altered form, to the fictional B-Mor, an atmosphere of self-willed compliance, a submission of body and mind and maybe soul in trade for basic security and stability.

On Such a Full Sea appears to be a distinctly American parable about disenfranchisement--like Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Why did you choose the first-person plural point of view?

It didn't feel quite right to tell the story of Fan through a single consciousness. The ready perspective would have been hers, but Fan in my conception was not one of those heroes who leads by chattering away, with boundless charm and wit. I enjoy those narrators as much as anyone, but that wasn't Fan. And then I had another interest in this novel besides telling of Fan's exploits and adventures, which was how these journeys would play to B-Mor itself, how the community would report on them, and feel about them, and perhaps then begin to imagine and re-mold her story. This is as much a novel of a communal consciousness and the ways in which legends are told and digested. So it felt right when I found the plural voice, this chorus that is all-knowing and everywhere but also vulnerable to what it's seeing.

The collective voice of B-Mor asserts that its citizens are not "drones or robots and never will be," but raises the question of whether being "an individual" makes a difference anymore. Would you elaborate on this, since "individual" is never defined in On Such a Full Sea? Can Fan be a successful trespasser of borders without losing her individuality?

Yes, as the narrator asserts, "we" are individuals, but I think there's a deep worry in the novel that individualism as one normally understands it was being profoundly transformed by the conditions of the world, not just in B-Mor but in the Counties and the Charters as well. Each community has its pressures and dangers, and those stresses, in my view, wear deeply on the psyches of the respective inhabitants. Each group expresses these stresses differently, each has its particular set of anxieties, whether over money or food or security, but what they all seem to have in common is a certain besiegement that keeps them from being truly free. There's an interest by the narrator in the notion of freedom, though again I don't think it's ever directly addressed. It's not so much political freedom but perhaps more one of the imagination. Fan captivates the narrator because she seems to have imagined a different existence for herself and Reg, one beyond the fixed "borders" of these societies.

The relationships among women in this novel are vividly evoked, from the fraught relationship between Fan and Loreen to the sisterly bond among the seven kept girls in Miss Cathy's household. How did you gain such astute, colorful insights into the lives of women?

I'm pleased that you thought this of the women's relationships. Perhaps it's that I have two daughters, who are now growing up into young women, and that our household is run by them and my wife! Of course I have some say in things, but the heart of the matter is that our life is their life, and that gradually enough, over the years, I've become one of the "girls," which I don't mind at all.... I think there's a special bond that women enjoy, an openness to their loving and willing interdependence that a group of men doesn't naturally have. --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine

Book Candy

Book Lovers' Conundrums; Books About the Mind

Calling this "perhaps the only downside to loving books with all of your heart and soul," the Huffington Post showcased "19 quirky conundrums only book lovers understand."


Citing a "new wave of science fiction, from the show Person of Interest to the movie Her, [that] features artificial intelligences whose minds are truly alien," io9 recommended "the 10 books that will change the way you understand the mind."


Buzzfeed highlighted "8 adorable baby shower themes inspired by children's books."


Pop quizzes: The Guardian offered a pair of tests to challenge your knowledge of alcohol and literature ("It's been 80 years since the U.S. ended Prohibition") and writers' cats and dogs ("Can you match the pen to the pet?")


For the many book addicts "would rather display their books than merely store them," the Huffington Post highlighted "11 incredible bookcases for people who really, really love their books."

Book Review


Famous Writers I Have Known

by James Magnuson

"Sometimes writing a sentence can be harder than serving one," says Frankie Abandonato, the narrator of James Magnuson's hilarious Famous Writers I Have Known. Frankie's speaking to us from a writing class in prison, but he soon rewinds his story five years to New York City, where he and his buddy pull a scam on someone who turns out to be a mob relative.

After Frankie finds his buddy shot dead, he's on the first flight out of town--to Austin: "Texas has always scared the hell out of me but...." Turns out a famous reclusive writer was supposed to be on that plane, on his way to teach at a university creative writing program--and Frankie looks a lot like this guy. He decides to play along with the case of mistaken identity, collecting a cool $75,000 right off the bat, but how long can he keep it up?

Frankie starts boning up on V.A. Mohle and his only novel, Eat Your Wheaties (which he read as a kid), and finds out that a very wealthy writer who had a terrible public argument with Mohle years ago is on the campus. Now he wants to make peace--and of course Frankie is hell bent on scamming this guy out of his money, all while he fulfills his duties to the university, including teaching class, giving talks and holding readings. This is a fun-filled literary romp to set alongside Lucky Jim and Nice Work. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: James Magnuson, director of the University of Texas at Austin's Michener Center for Writers, brings a hilariously creative perspective to the college novel.

W.W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 9780393240887

On Such a Full Sea

by Chang-Rae Lee

Hauntingly familiar yet dazzlingly subversive, Chang-rae Lee's (Native Speaker; A Gesture Life) dystopian parable On Such a Full Sea grafts ethnic otherness to iconic Americana. In one chapter, for example, a large Zen-like mural of the heroine, Fan, with black hair framing an open circle meant for her face, evokes Tom Joad's "I'll be there" speech from The Grapes of Wrath.

The novel begins with Fan's departure from B-Mor--a future Baltimore transformed into an industrial colony of ethnic Chinese created mainly to service the needs of America's Charter class--in search of her mysteriously vanished lover. Fan's literal transgression galvanizes her community to explore the meaning of happiness, which consequently undermines the accepted wisdom. Lee's vision of the future is of a society in constant peril, as its ambivalence toward class, race and gender clashes with a deep yearning to transcend these issues. On another level, though, Lee exuberantly celebrates the creative impulse, a force described as not entirely "natural" to the circumspect Asian-American mindset: "Fan was different," his unnamed narrator tells us. "In this way she startles us, inspires us. She was someone who pursued her project as a genuine artist might, following with focus and intensity as well as an enduring innocence a goal she could not quite understand or see but wholly believed." --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine

Discover: A heroine's quest simultaneously affirms and upends the ideas of community and the pursuit of happiness in a dystopian future--from the author of Native Speaker and A Gesture Life.

Riverhead, $27.95, hardcover, 9781594486104

Apple Tree Yard

by Louise Doughty

In Louise Doughty's Apple Tree Yard, a respected English geneticist and married mother of two looks back mid-trial at how she ended up in the dock at the Old Bailey. Yvonne Carmichael shares her legal peril with the first man who tempted her to cheat on her husband. He's an enigmatic government employee, also married, whose name and exact job title were happily mysterious to Yvonne until a traumatic trajectory transformed the nature of their dalliance from naughty to incriminating. Although Yvonne's husband remains in her corner, Doughty has her heroine address her interior ruminations to her lover.

The first intimation of high stakes occurs in the prologue/teaser, when we witness the crux of Yvonne's testimony without knowing the full gravity of her charges. The first chapter jumps back to the inauguration of her affair, and then proceeds chronologically through its aftermath. The last third of the novel reprises and resolves, for better or worse, the prologue's courtroom drama; these trial scenes are among the best in the book.

Several themes in Apple Tree Yard elevate its racy thriller profile. DNA struts throughout the text in hereditary and research guises, and two turns of the plot hinge upon forensic analysis. A defense barrister summarizes a study of primate altruism under stress that functions as a morality metaphor for several characters' choices. Finally, the novel raises the question of how guilt should be assigned. It's the reader, not the jury, who hears enough evidence to decide who is guilty, who is innocent and who is gallant. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

Discover: A titillating, suspenseful and thought-provoking novel about a London affair gone awry.

Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, hardcover, 9780374105679

Andrew's Brain

by E.L. Doctorow

Whether the subject is race relations (Ragtime), the Civil War (The March) or the Rosenberg case (The Book of Daniel), over his more than half-century long career E.L. Doctorow has shown an abiding interest in U.S. history. While Andrew's Brain doesn't have the epic feel of those earlier novels, in a less direct fashion it finds its way back to the same preoccupation, this time looking at our country in the post-9/11 era.

Most of the novel unfolds in conversations between Andrew, who's a cognitive scientist, and an unnamed analyst. Their exchanges rove over considerable stretches of Andrew's past; they also discuss, as Andrew's ex-wife describes it, "that gift you have of leaving disaster in your wake."

Andrew's love affair with Briony, a beautiful and guileless college student enrolled in one of his classes, provides the story's emotional center. "For a person congenitally unable to be happy," Andrew recalls, "I was, with Briony, happy." But it's the abrupt end of their relationship that propels Andrew into the novel's concluding section, which connects it thematically with Doctorow's body of work.

Through an improbable meeting, Andrew enters the White House of Bush 43, a man he says is "feckless, irresponsible, in over his head." What he sees inside the Oval Office transforms Andrew into someone who "mourns for his country."

Much like Doctorow's cerebral City of God (2001), Andrew's Brain is a novel that seems aimed more at the mind than the heart. Like the process of analysis on which its narrative is built, it's focused on questions, not answers. Readers who want to tease out those answers for themselves are likely to find it a satisfying work. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: E.L. Doctorow's 12th novel explores some of the mystery of human consciousness in the post-9/11 United States.

Random House, $26, hardcover, 9781400068814

Foreign Gods, Inc.

by Okey Ndibe

Ike (pronounced ee-kay) is a Nigerian cab driver in New York with a degree from Amherst who hates that everyone notices his accent. He's borrowed a fortune to buy an airline ticket back to Nigeria and his remote village, where he'll steal the wooden god Ngene, then make his fortune selling it to a Manhattan gallery that specializes in exotic deities.

In Utonki, he comes face-to-face with his elderly mother, who hasn't received any support from her son since he became addicted to gambling; his uncle, Ngene's chief priest, whose commitment to the god is utterly sincere; Pastor Godson Uka, a Christian preacher who's been convincing villagers to fear each other's evil magic while he drains them financially for protection; and his first love, now a frumpy woman with five kids, her wealthy deceased husband fleeced by the greedy pastor.

Nicely rounded secondary characters include Bernita, Ike's sexual tornado of an ex-wife, and Ike's former classmate "Tony Curtis," now a politician with two houses and a six-car garage. Still, Ike is the focus as two gods, two priests and his mother battle over his soul.

Ndibe writes with a folksy inclusiveness. The village humor, the greetings and teasing, lend the Utonki sequences a lyrical magic, interrupted by the ubiquitous ringing of cell phones. Into this richly stocked brew of characters, Ndibe skillfully introduces suspense in the final stretch, guiding readers through the tension of getting through customs Nigerian-style. As an author with a foot in Nigeria and the U.S., he expertly brings both worlds to life. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: A taxi driver in New York City decides to steal the wooden god from his remote Nigerian village and sell it to a gallery specializing in exotic deities.

Soho Press, $25, hardcover, 9781616953133

Mystery & Thriller

The Last Death of Jack Harbin

by Terry Shames

Terry Shames (A Killing at Cotton Hill) brings retired police chief Samuel Craddock back for another investigation in The Last Death of Jack Harbin. A little crusty around the edges, Craddock is concerned when Bob Harbin has a fatal heart attack, leaving his son, Jack--who lost a leg and his eyesight in the Gulf War--without care. No one in the small town of Jarrett Creek, Tex., knows how Jack is going to manage without his dad to take care of him.

Jack, a high school football star who signed up for the military because of a girl (who then married his best friend), is bitter about his situation and devastated at the loss. Then, less than a week later, Jack is murdered.

Jarrett Creek's current police chief is an alcoholic, so the mayor quietly asks Craddock to investigate the death. Craddock knows all the key players: Was the killer Jack's erstwhile best friend or his creepy brother who was involved in a Branch Davidian-type cult or someone who'd resented Jack's status as a football star and war hero? For that matter, did Bob really die of a heart attack?

Craddock's methodological investigative strategies and occasionally curmudgeonly ways of thinking (narrated in the first person) are a joy to read. The Last Death of Jack Harbin brings the rivalries and secrets only possible in a small town to the forefront, creating a host of entirely believable minor characters. Football fans, mystery lovers and anyone who's ever lived in a small town will all enjoy The Last Death of Jack Harbin. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: Terry Shames's second novel is an excellent mystery starring a retired Texas police chief who's still spry enough to catch a killer.

Seventh Street Books, $15.95, paperback, 9781616148713

The House on the Cliff

by Charlotte Williams

Charlotte Williams's debut novel, The House on the Cliff, takes readers to the rocky coastline of Wales for a mystery driven by the inner turmoil of two families.

Jessica Mayhew thought she had it all: a loving family and a successful career in psychotherapy. When her husband confesses to an affair with a much younger woman, though, she finds the betrayal difficult to forgive. At the same time, a charismatic and dramatic new patient shakes up Jessica's routine. Handsome young actor Gwydion Morgan seeks Jessica's help, supposedly for koumpounophobia (the fear of buttons). Soon, though, Jessica receives a call from Gwydion's controlling mother, who claims her son is suicidal and begs Jessica to make a house call. At the Morgans' beautiful and remote coastal mansion, Jessica is pulled into the family's scandalous mystery and the roots of Gwydion's trauma: did his childhood au pair really drown accidentally, or did his father murder her within the boy's earshot when she spurned his advances? As Jessica and Gwydion's attachment and attraction grows, she is driven to solve the mystery, but her determination may cost her her life.

Although Williams's pacing is more of a slow burn than the usual thriller, her ability to build an eerie atmosphere and her attention to characters' psychology create a more immediate and intimate feeling of suspense. Readers will hope Jessica saves her marriage even as she struggles to save Gwydion, and the mystery's satisfying solution leaves hope for the futures of the innocent. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A psychologist struggles to solve a patient's dangerous family mystery while her marriage falls apart.

Bourbon Street Books, $14.99, paperback, 9780062284570

Bury This

by Andrea Portes

One night in a small Michigan town in the late 1970s, a young woman named Beth leaves her job as a hotel receptionist and disappears into the snow. When the ice thaws, her remains surface by the side of the road; her unsolved murder becomes another dark moment in the town's history. Twenty-five years later, a group of college students decide to reopen the case for a class project.

The writing in Andrea Portes's Bury This is appealingly lush and well-crafted, flashing between past and present as the students conduct interview after interview in the hopes of unearthing a juicy story for their documentary film class. In the 1970s, we follow Beth and her best friend Shauna from their early teens until the fateful day of the murder, and we begin to see how one girl ended up dead and the other ended up depressed and alone, waiting for her turn to be released from a purgatory-like life. No one is innocent; behind every door there's a sordid secret.

Portes's story is heavy on depraved, abusive men and desperate women with no way out, a murder mystery with many victims and no heroes. Even the college students trying to solve Beth's death are upsettingly eager for scandal, until they realize too late the horror they have uncovered. --Emma Page, bookseller at Island Books, Mercer Island, Wash.

Discover: A lush, voyeuristic whodunit set in a small Midwestern town with plenty to hide.

Soft Skull Press, $15.95, paperback, 9781593765354

Current Events & Issues

Demon Camp: A Soldier's Exorcism

by Jennifer Percy

The recent Iraq and Afghan wars made "embedded journalism," with reporters riding along with soldiers at the front lines, a new genre of reportage. In Demon Camp, Jennifer Percy embeds herself into the post-combat life of Caleb Daniels, a helicopter maintenance enlistee who humped his way through SERE (Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape) school to get into the illustrious "Night Stalkers" Special Forces 160th Regiment.

After two Iraq deployments and eight in Afghanistan, Daniels came home with a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Haunted, suicidal, unable to work or stay married, he was convinced he was controlled by "demons" who included his dead best friend, an unarmed Iraqi he killed, even his harshly critical father. He found some measure of peace at a trailer house parish in tiny Portal, Ga., where Pentecostal preacher Tim Mather claims to have exorcized 5,000 demons.

Percy drives with Daniels cross-country, gathering other suicidal veterans to have their demons purged by Mather. Percy briefly succumbs to the "easy, luminous desire to be saved [where] everything is soft-looking and cries with the Holy Spirit." But she always steps back from the personal to record what she sees and hears.

If the traditional VA hospital treatments don't offer much to Caleb Daniels and similarly broken vets, the Demon Camp seems to hold their nightmares at bay. In Percy's telling, it's a crazy place--or maybe just a place full of crazies. You can't walk away from Percy's strong debut without feeling like you've spent a frightening moment inside the heads of soldiers who come home from war. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kans.

Discover: In an auspicious debut, Jennifer Percy delves deep into the life of an Army vet suffering from post-traumatic stress to understand the effect of war on returning soldiers.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 9781451661989


The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew

by Alan Lightman

As he's demonstrated in highly original novels like Einstein's Dreams and Mr g, Alan Lightman possesses the mind of a theoretical physicist and the soul of an artist. Those qualities animate each of the seven elegant essays of The Accidental Universe, as he enlightens us about the "many universes within our one universe, some visible and some not."

There's no better example of Lightman's ability deftly to reconcile the two sides of his intellectual heritage than "The Spiritual Universe." He's a self-described atheist, though not of the Richard Dawkins fire-breathing variety. Indeed, he's critical of Dawkins's "wholesale dismissal of religion and religious sensibility." Despite his lack of belief, Lightman argues that there is "room for both a spiritual universe and a physical universe," and that science and religion share a "sense of wonder." Another essay, "The Temporary Universe," begins with a description of the pain he experiences on the day of his daughter's wedding as he muses about the swift passage of time and ends with a description of the cereus, a plant that blossoms for only one summer night, "as delicate and fleeting as a life in the universe," wrapping the affecting stories around a wistful meditation on our mortality. At the book's end, "The Disembodied Universe" reveals the scientist's dismay at how, through technology, we have "marginalized our direct sensory experience."

While Lightman hopes "there will always be an edge between the known and the unknown," he offers intriguing glimpses of how the gulf we too often perceive between science and the rest of life might be bridged. A good start would see us opening our minds and allowing the expansive, generous intellect of someone like him to show us the way. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Novelist and theoretical physicist Alan Lightman bridges art and physics in these seven smart and lively perspectives on our world.

Pantheon, $24, hardcover, 9780307908582

Children's & Young Adult

Baby Bear

by Kadir Nelson

Kadir Nelson's (Heart and Soul) exquisite picture book follows a bear cub lost at night, who finds his way home with the guidance of his fellow woodland friends.

"Excuse me, dear Mountain Lion. I'm lost. Can you help me find my way home?" says Baby Bear. Mountain Lion responds, "When I am lost I try to retrace my steps." Frog suggests the bear "trust himself." And in a humorous exchange, two squirrels advise him to "hug a tree and think of home." Each animal Baby Bear encounters offers words of wisdom, but the hero ultimately must make his way alone. Nelson shows the many-faceted colors of the night in spectacular oil paintings. As a full moon moves across the sky, the backgrounds shift from the midnight blue behind the mountain lion bathed in a tangerine glow to the emerald green moonlight of a night sky filtered through forest leaves, as Moose approaches Baby Bear. At the story's climax, a white owl that matches the moonbath of light below assures Baby Bear that he is not alone: "I am here with you." As Baby Bear looks up at the night sky, his eyes reflect back the moon, and the expression is one of pure trust and faith.

This book will resonate with children starting their first day of school or moving to a new home. It's a story readers may return to again and again, as they face times of great challenge or transition. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An exquisitely understated picture book that charts a bear cub's journey to find his home, with guidance from his fellow woodland creatures.

Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-up, 9780062241726

Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain

by Russell Freedman, trans. by Evans Chan

Russell Freedman (Lincoln) delves deeply into the layers of the former site of the immigration station located in San Francisco Bay, which served as the entry point for more than half a million people hoping to enter the United States from 1910 to 1940.

Many of those arriving at Angel Island had led sheltered lives and experienced it as a jail. "I had never seen such a prison-like place," said one woman. Freedman does not flinch from describing the barbed wire surrounding the barracks and the terrifying, dehumanizing medical examinations. The hospital had separate facilities for whites and Asians, and Asians were subject to "intensive" exams, conducted by doctors and nurses wearing white--the color worn at funerals in China. The vast majority of those arriving at Angel Island came from China, and Freedman devotes most of the book to the reasons for their immigration (first, the California Gold Rush; later, the Transcontinental Railroad), as well as the angry reactions of white Americans to their arrival (the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred many Chinese from becoming naturalized citizens, was not repealed until 1943). He also includes stories from Japanese, Korean and Russian immigrants.

As the debate about immigration continues today in the U.S., Freedman's account demonstrates how deep and complex the issue's roots are. Readers may find it painful to learn of the wrongs committed at Angel Island, but Freedman's expert research and accessible writing come at the right time. --Allie Jane Bruce, children's librarian, Bank Street College of Education

Discover: An exploration of the dark history of the hopeful arrivals at the Angel Island Immigration Station.

Clarion/HMH, $17.99, hardcover, 96p., ages 9-12, 9780547903781

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